Humans love to talk, and with over 6,500 spoken languages in existence today, there are myriad ways for our words to be conveyed and interpreted. But even if you don’t speak anything other than your native tongue, you’re still bilingual in a way.
Albert Mehrabian, renowned scientist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, found that 55 percent of all communication was nonverbal. That’s right, the human body has a language all its own and it is universal across all spoken word.
But what role does body language play in today’s society? It assists in nearly all aspects of communication as a supplement, or verifier, to the words we speak with our mouths. Strong body language will help you in nearly every situation you find yourself in –whether it’s the dating realm, a large social event, or daily life in schools and offices around the world. However, weak body language can detract from any message your mouth is trying to convey, for instance, when you have a big presentation at the office coming up.
There are a ton of technical maneuvers that anyone can master to make a speech shine (clean formatting, a nice font, using a browser plugin to insert YouTube video in PowerPoint, excellent supporting images, and more), but without confident body language, your overall message will flounder.
Here are some body language moves to avoid in your next presentation to ensure you’re broadcasting the image you’re intending to.
Avoiding Eye Contact
Rule number one of successful body language is to look your audience in the eye, no matter if it’s one person or an auditorium full of people.Find people who are nodding their heads or appearing even the slightest bit engaged and give them eye contact for 7-10 seconds while presenting. It is the fastest way to connect without words, and the first thing you should be doing above all else. At the same time, be mindful of over-aggressive eye contact, which can put people off, or intimidate them.
You wouldn’t say to your audience that you don’t want to be there. Yet, when you stand with bad posture, that’s exactly what your body is saying. Standing up straight with your shoulders back is a power position that maximizes the amount of space you fill. It commands respect and promotes engagement from the audience. Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School, found that through a few simple tweaks to one’s body language, hormones and heart rates were affected in a way that was consistent with actually having power. People displaying these power poses were found to be evaluated in a more positive light, especially in situations like job interviews.
Another sign that you’re feeling nervous or insecure when giving a presentation are clenched fists. Clenching your fists suggests that you are defensive or argumentative, which can make people question your authority or become nervous about interacting with you.
Fidgeting is a clear sign of nerves or anxiety. A person who can’t stand still is a person who is tense and lacking confidence. Your hands may try to work against you, but fight to keep them steady. Talking with your hands is welcoming, but keep your gesticulating calm and under control. When you fidget, your audience may perceive you as overly aware of your physical appearance and thus your presentation’s objective may be compromised or glossed over.
When delivering bad news of a horrible crash that killed three people, it’s probably not a good idea to smirk or speak loudly. If your body language doesn’t come from a place of actual sincerity, the receiver will catch on, ultimately losing trust toward you, and what you’re trying to communicate. This sentiment can be applied to all public speaking. Your words and facial expressions should be in line with one another to create a cohesive message that can be trusted by the listener.
Staying mindful of these small-but-critical body language pitfalls will improve the way you and your words are perceived – both in presentations and day-to-day interactions.